Second-hand book sales triple in two years as the nation falls in love with sharing a great read

Sales of second-hand books have almost tripled in two years, according to the National Trust.

The surge in sales at the Trust’s 185 second-hand book shops points to an increase in the public wanting to share a great read.

Income has gone from £573,000 in 2017 to more than £1.4million so far this financial year, with sales expected to hit £1.8m, as tens of thousands of books are sold every week – some for as little as 50p.

Second-hand books have become so popular that during a two-week sale at the Trust’s Baddesley Clinton near Solihull, more than £10,000 was made, with £8,000 of that raised in just the first week.

The rise in popularity has sparked a new wave of book shops opening at National Trust properties, which now totals 185, ranging from simple book baskets and corners to others filling several rooms and spanning multiple floors.

And it is not just books being uncovered among the donations, some of the more fascinating stories and discoveries made at Trust book shops include:

  • In Wales, a donated book entitled The Ascent of Everest contained a hidden gem when volunteers at Dyffryn Gardens opened the cover to discover seven autographs from the first climbers to reach the top of Mount Everest including Sir Edmund Hillary. The book, which would ordinarily have gone on sale for a couple of pounds, later sold at auction for almost £500.
  • At Quarry Bank Mill in Wilmslow, one shopper was shocked to get home with their second-hand purchase only to find a signed letter from White Christmas star Bing Crosby. In what appears to be a response to a fan, Crosby explains in the 70-year-old letter that his next movie release is Road to Rio with Bob Hope. The top of the headed note paper simply reads ‘Bing Crosby, Hollywood’.
  • Tredegar House in south Wales has been inspired to tell the story of its history after a donation at its second-hand book shop. A 1920s weekly wall calendar was uncovered tucked inside a donated book. The Home Hints planner explains that the first week of February is best used to clean your fur and for making a clothing cleaning ball from French chalk, powdered pipeclay and wine.
  • At Trelissick near Truro, volunteers unearthed 50 years’ worth of pristine copies of the Beano. They also came across a photo album packed with images of pre-First World War alpine skiers, depicting women in ankle-length skirts scaling the mountains.
  • In south London, popular British cartoon character Peppa Pig has gone international at Morden Hall’s second-hand book shop. Box loads of translated Peppa Pig books are regularly donated by a local proof reader, who spends time reading the stories to his family to check they have been translated correctly. Volunteers at Morden Hall report that the books, covering Spanish, French, Polish and German, fly off the shelves as soon as they arrive.
  • At Lyme Park in Cheshire the autobiography by the late comedienne Dame Thora Hird, entitled Scene and Hird, contained more than her life story when a hand-written letter from her was discovered inside. In it she wrote ‘Herewith the book. There are no big words in it – cos I don’t know any, but it is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth’.

Many of the Trust’s book shops are managed by dedicated teams of volunteers, who sort through donations, stock the shelves, and serve customers.

David Jackson, a volunteer at the second-hand book shop at Hardwick Hall said: “Like many other retail outlets, second-hand book shops are in decline on our high streets, yet they are still very popular with a large section of the public, so this is a great opportunity for the National Trust to provide, and become the leader, in second-hand book shops at visitor attractions.

“There is a big difference between a shop selling a pile of tatty books in the corner for 50p to a proper second-hand book shop.  Like other specialist retail outlets, good second-hand book shops have a unique feel, which customers enjoy, and I believe that the National Trust’s shops really add to the visitor experience.”

Second-hand book shops are fast becoming an important fundraising stream for the National Trust, which relies heavily on donations of books from members of the public to stock its shelves.

Property Fundraising Officer Katy Taheri said: “It’s amazing to see the popularity of our second-hand book shops growing so quickly, not only in terms of the quantity of books being given to us, but also the amount we’re selling. It seems the nation still loves to curl up with a good book, with many feeling there’s something extra special about a book that has been flicked through and enjoyed by other people.

“The success of our book shops is down to our brilliant volunteers, who at many properties, have brought great creativity in how to sell books and get our visitors to fall in love with them. And as the stories being told prove, our shops aren’t just about the books, they are also about the fascinating discoveries hidden away in the pages, from historical records and images to famous autographs and letters. They really are a treasure trove of hidden gems.”

National Trust properties with second-hand book shops welcome donations during opening hours.  More information about the bookshops can be found on its website:

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